One of my favorite food groups is macarons even though they are neither healthy nor an actual food group. Because they are so near and dear to my heart, I went on a trip around the Bay Area to sample macarons, a trip that yielded some delicious and some not-so-delicious results.
The first place I stopped at was La Boulange Bakery in San Francisco. There were many locations, so I just picked the one that was most convenient in the Westfield San Francisco Centre. Looking at all of the yummy flavors, I decided to buy passionfruit-mango and lemon. So far, I had only seen passionfruit-mango macarons at La Boulange, and it was my favorite flavor of them all. Tiny chunks of fruit on the outside of the macaron added a nice crunch, and it was still soft and chewy on the inside. The macaron was much thinner than many others I had tried before and was not as pleasing as a thick and chewy one. This macaron was a beautiful and fresh summery-salmon pink color with a mango yellow filling, and it was not overly sweet. However, I could not say the same about the lemon macaron. The filling was so hard and sticky that I really had to sink my teeth in. The lemon flavor was not very realistic and instead turned out tasting like a badly made lemon-meringue bar. Overall, the macarons here were not horrible, and they had a large selection of flavors, including pistachio, coffee, vanilla and chocolate.
The next stop was YakiniQ Cafe in San Francisco’s Japantown. A friend had informed me that YakiniQ had a unique Earl Grey flavor, so I sought it out. I bought the last Earl Grey macaron along with a rose-flavored one. As soon as I bit down on the rose macaron, I could really feel the proper chewy feel from a thick macaron. It had substance and was dense — the best texture for macarons. The YakiniQ macarons immediately made a better impression than La Boulange’s, and the rose flavor was beautifully crafted. It had a slight aroma that was not too strong, and the floral taste stood out against the sugary base flavor of the macaron. The taste along with the nice light pink color reminded me of a rose perfume.
The Earl Grey macaron was also very pleasing and impressive. The surface was slightly crunchy, and the taste was a union of Earl Grey tea, poppy seeds and coffee. The macaron was light brown on the outside with a white filling, and the surface had small Earl Grey pieces to decorate and add more of a realistic flavor. The texture of this macaron was just as excellent as that of the rose one. Sitting down to have a cup of sweet-potato latte and peacefully eating YakiniQ macarons make for a perfect afternoon.
The third stop was Miette inside the Ferry Building Marketplace near the Embarcadero BART station. I bought rose geranium and grapefruit macarons. The shop also had hazelnut and chocolate, but I wanted to try new flavors that would have been more difficult to find. Both macarons were a light brown color with dark brown speckles. The rose geranium had a purer yet subtler flavor than the YakiniQ rose macaron. The Miette macarons were also chewy and dense but still substantial, similar to the YakiniQ macarons. However, I still preferred the YakiniQ macarons that were slightly chewier. The grapefruit macaron I tasted at Miette featured the best-executed fruit flavor I have ever tasted. As soon as I took a bite, the light, tangy and fresh aroma of grapefruit filled my mouth. I thought of eating pomelos at home on a hot summer day. The taste completely enveloped the taste buds, and I completely forgot about the sugary taste of the macarons because it was not as present. Even after eating the macaron, the aroma stayed in my mouth for a few more minutes, and it was very refreshing.
My next stop was at DeLise Dessert Cafe in San Francisco. I bought date and walnut, pistachio and rose, and lavender-flavored macarons. I was quite excited to try these unique flavors, but I was quickly disappointed by both the texture and taste of the macarons. The date and walnut flavors clashed, so much so I could not even taste the walnut. There was also a small amount of date jelly in the middle, which made it feel like I was eating plain dates. The pistachio and rose macaron tasted refreshing and light, but I could not differentiate between the pistachio macaron and rose fillings. All of the flavors blended together and neither was distinct. The macarons were not chewy and cracked easily, and I left not wanting to return to DeLise.
The last stop was Berkeley’s own Masse’s Pastries. Masse’s Pastries is a regular stop for me on any Gourmet Ghetto trip because it is the closest pastry shop to campus, and their cakes are also quite exquisite. This time, I picked two unique flavors — cassis and pandan-coconut. The main ingredient of cassis is black currant, and pandan-coconut was a special flavor made for the Lunar New Year. I ate the pandan-coconut first and was a little disappointed. It did not taste at all like coconut. Instead, I was reminded of a blend of pistachios and sugar. The texture was also a little crumbly, and when I bit down, other parts of the macaron cracked. The macaron was very thin and not chewy or moist. The cassis was not much better. When I opened my box of desserts, I saw that it was cracked and that the top of the macaron had already come off. This macaron was even more thin and was almost too chewy. I really had to work to chew the macaron rather than being able to lightly bite down. It was also dry, and the sweetness stood out more than the fruit flavor.
YakiniQ Cafe offered the best macarons of the five I tried, even though it does not have an extensive selection of flavors. It only features four or five flavors at a time, but they are all made exquisitely with an excellent chewy texture that is crunchy on the outside and moist and dense on the inside. Coming in a very close second to YakiniQ Cafe is Miette. Macarons here are a little bit more prone to cracking than the YakiniQ ones, hence Miette’s position in the rankings. Third place is definitely La Boulange, because even though the quality of the macarons was not as great as it was at Miette or YakiniQ, La Boulange has a great selection of flavors. I would go there just for their passionfruit-mango macaron. Next up is Masse’s Pastries because the macarons generally have a good flavor, and the shop offers a large selection. Masse’s macarons are satisfying for an everyday macaron. Of course, the Bay Area has more macaron goodness to offer, but that will have to wait until next time.